Few Americans are more worthy of the big and small screen than Andrew Jackson—a poor, orphaned child of immigrants who fought in the American Revolution, moved to the frontier, and rose to become president of the United States. HBO is producing a six-hour miniseries based on Jon Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
What actor is set to play Old Hickory—the rough-hewn, America-loving, dangerous man with “shoot in his eyes” who fought in a number of legendary duels? Sean Penn, the well-know critic of America who has called his country “xenophobic,” attacked private firearm ownership, and frequently hobnobs with South American socialists. He seems like a singularly un-Jacksonian individual to portray Jackson.
Penn is also slated to be the executive producer of the series and will be consulted by Meacham, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The series goes into production in 2016.
It is particularly odd timing for a prominent liberal like Penn to be working on an Andrew Jackson series given all the recent, progressive attempts to drag the famous Tennessean’s reputation through the mud. Activists have tried to strip Jackson from the $20 bill—to be replaced by a woman, any woman—sought to erase his and Thomas Jefferson’s name from the Democrat Party’s annual Jefferson/Jackson Day dinners, and have even attempted to prevent the Navy from launching a ship named the USS Andrew Jackson. This is all due to the fact that Jackson is not sufficiently politically correct for the modern era.
Jackson was a slave owner and removed Cherokee and other American Indians from their land in the east to the west—a policy conducted by every American president from George Washington to Jackson’s time. These are generally the only qualities that anti-Jackson activists cite when trying to upend his legacy. The attributes that made him revered by many Americans of his own time, however, are rarely mentioned.
Jackson’s life was the quintessential American story; a man who rose from incredible adversity to the absolute highest station in the country. Jackson was orphaned while fighting as a young teen in his native South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. He eventually moved out west to the Tennessee frontier, where he made a name for himself as a businessman, lawyer, judge, politician, and military man. Jackson achieved his greatest fame at the end of the War of 1812, in which he won a near-miraculous victory at the Battle of New Orleans. General Jackson went from local celebrity to American hero overnight, and his military fame helped propel him into office as the seventh President of the United States in 1828.
In a Jackson biography written in 1900, historian William Garrott Brown summed up why American’s held Jackson in such high esteem:
He was the man who had his way. He was the American whose simple virtues his countrymen most clearly understood, whose trespasses they most readily forgave; and until Americans are altogether changed, many, like the Democrats of the ‘Twenties and ‘Thirties, will still “vote for Jackson,”—for the poor boy who fought his way, step by step, to the highest station; for the soldier who always went to meet the enemy at the gate; for the president who never shirked a responsibility…
Jackson’s life deserves more attention, and it would be hard to find a more dynamic historical figure to base a television show. However, it’s an ominous sign that Penn—of all people—will have the featured role.
Follow Jarrett Stepman on Twitter:@JarrettStepman. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.